Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Can artificial intelligence predict earthquakes?

Image from SciAm.

So far, no one has found a reliable way to forecast earthquakes, even though many scientists have tried. Some experts consider it a hopeless endeavor. “You’re viewed as a nutcase if you say you think you’re going to make progress on predicting earthquakes,” says Paul Johnson, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. But he is trying anyway, using a powerful tool he thinks could potentially solve this impossible puzzle: artificial intelligence. (Full story)

Confessions of a dark matter detective

The HAWC Observatory in Puebla, Mexico. INAOE photo.

As a national nuclear security facility, Los Alamos National Laboratory studies dark matter under its global security mission, which includes a focus on particle physics. Increasing our understanding of high-energy astrophysical phenomena helps us develop expertise and capabilities in particle detection, data acquisition systems, and Big Data analysis. That work brought me to the HAWC team at Los Alamos, where I could pursue the deep mystery of dark matter.

One of our searches uses this unusual telescope to look for gamma rays from relatively near dwarf galaxies. They’re unusually dim given the number of stars in them and are known dark matter hangouts. If we do see gamma rays coming from them, that would be a smoking gun for dark matter interactions. (Full story)

Science on the Hill: Protecting grid from cataclysmic solar storm

Large solar events can disrupt the electrical grid, LANL

Mindful of the danger, the nation has developed a plan to support electric utilities in defending against severe geomagnetic storms. As part of that plan, space scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are researching the credible scenarios that could lead to large impacts. Los Alamos has been studying space weather for more than 50 years as part of its national security mission to monitor nuclear testing around the globe, and part of that work includes studying how the radiation-saturated environment of near space can affect technology and people. (Full story)

Nuclear reactors to power space exploration

Full-scale system being readied for engineering
demonstration. LANL photo.

Calls for space nuclear power are not new. In fact, numerous reactor concepts have been proposed in the past. Their development is often dampened by the perception that nuclear is too hard, takes too long and costs too much.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, in partnership with NASA Research Centers and other DOE National Labs, is developing and rapidly maturing a suite of very small fission power sources to meet power needs that range from hundreds of Watts-electric (We) to 100 kWe. These designs, commonly referred to as kiloPower reactors, are based on well-established physics that simultaneously simplifies reactor controls necessary to operate the plant and incorporates inherent safety features that guard against consequences of launch accidents and operational transients. (Full story)

Also from R&D this week:

Featured R&D 100 Award winner: Entropy Engine

A portion of the engine’s circuitry,
LANL image.

The Entropy Engine, developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Whitewood Encryption Systems, is a computer hardware system that uses quantum mechanics to generate an inexhaustible supply of pure random numbers at speeds of 200 megabits per second. The unpredictability and speed of such entropy provides the highest possible level of defense because the quantum processes used in this technology are irreducibly random. Modern cryptosystems rely on high-quality randomness, consuming surprisingly high quantities of random numbers to generate their keys and perform cryptographic operations. (Full story)

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